South Korean Schools Re-open After MERS Outbreak


South Korean schools are beginning to reopen after a MERS outbreak, since the World Health Organization has stated that schools have not been found to play a part in spread of the virus.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) caused the closing of thousands of South Korean schools a month ago, but most have reopened this week. The outbreak seems to be slowing, though the total number of cases has just topped 150. There have been 16 fatalities and 120 people are undergoing treatment.

Keiji Fukuda, the WHO assistant director-general for health security, said:

Transmission of infection in schools has not been a feature or an important part of transmission of this virus in this outbreak. On the other hand, the closure of many schools creates tremendous hardship for parents and it also creates a level of fear and concern about schools, which does not reflect, in reality, any danger.

Five hospitals have shut down either entirely or partially because the worst outbreaks of the virus have all been traced back to healthcare facilities, according to the World Health Organization. 5,216 people are under quarantine; most are at home, but some are in hospitals. 70 cases have been traced back to the Samsung Medical Center, which has suspended all procedures except for emergency surgery and MERS responses.

Its president Song Jae-hoon said:

We sincerely apologize with our heads bent to the people for causing great concern as Samsung Medical Center became the center of the spread of MERS.

MERS, which is related to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that hit China in 2003, is a coronavirus first identified in humans in 2012. There is not yet a cure or a vaccine.

Myoungin Elementary School in Suwon reopened after ten days, but took students’ temperatures at the gate and sent home anyone who was running a fever, according to Reuters.

Bing Ko-ok, the grandmother of a first-grader, said:

The child’s mother and I both work, so I think it’s better for kids to be in school where there can be proper measures, rather than keeping them home.

Patient Zero was a South Korean man who returned a month ago from a trip to four Middle Eastern countries, writes KJ Kwon and Anas Hamdan of CNN. He went to multiple facilities complaining of a cough and a fever before being properly diagnosed.

The South Korean public has been found to have very little faith in its government, which has only worsened with poor handling of the outbreak.

Yoon Min-sik of the Korea Herald quoted the mother of a student at an elementary school in Seoul:

How am I supposed to trust [the government]? The same thing happened during the Sewol incident. People in charge said everything was under control, when things were not even close to being okay.

She is referring to the sinking of the Sewol ferry last April, to which the government did not respond well, resulting in 300 deaths.

More than 110,000 tourists have cancelled visits to South Korea since the beginning of the outbreak, and the country will lose an estimated $900 million in revenue as a result.